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Follow my kitchen experiments, catastrophes and triumphs


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Honey and mustard chicken with tarragon

WOW, over a month since my last post!!! Huge apologies everyone. To be honest, I’ve been struggling to find the time to even cook, never mind photograph my meals and write about them.

Our household has been incredibly busy and topsy-turvy this last month. Just before Christmas, our visa for New Zealand was approved and we decided to pack up and go as quickly as was humanely possible. We are off in less than a month now, and still need to clean all our camping gear, road bikes, hiking boots, get rid of clutter and prepare the house for the packers who arrive in just 2 weeks today…AARRGGHHHH!!!! After that, we are heading over to France on a road trip to visit friends and enjoy a last week of European skiing. I can’t wait. I’m absolutely rubbish at skiing, but I enjoy every second of it. Fortunately after years of face plants onto tarmac while wearing skates in my youth and from the back of a horse over jumps (onto grass luckily) I have a disturbing lack of fear of falling onto snow or ice, which probably helps a little.

My most exciting kitchen news was that…………………..(no, sorry no Kitchen Aid stand mixer, yet)……………….I finally finally got a couple of Le Creuset enamelled cast iron pots. My beloved deep, slope sided frying pan (its not really a wok) finally gave up the ghost after 6 years of loyal, almost daily use. It wasn’t the fanciest pan to begin with and has been heavily abused by me and a number of house guests over the years. I decided to replace it with something a little more exciting (and pretty) and persuaded my long suffering spouse that I want NEED cast iron of the enamelled kind. He nearly baulked at the price, but I was very persuasive. I am now the proud owner of a Le Creuset large shallow casserole, and large oval deep casserole pot. Needless to say I spent many days in discussion with my trusted chefy friend L making my selection.

SnowTo christen the shallow casserole, to provide some comfort from the recent snow, and as a stress relief from all the packing I made some roasted honey and mustard chicken pieces with tarragon. The tarragon is optional, but I like how just a little breaks the honey mustard taste a little. I added some veg to mine, and we ate it served with rice. It will work just as well with mashed potato, or couscous though. You can use smooth mustard of any variety (I recommend against the radioactive yellow American style hotdog mustard though, sorry USA bloggers), but whole grain is fabulous. If you are in the UK, DO try this with Tracklement’s Beer Mustard. You will love me (and them) forever.

Honey Mustard ChickenIngredients (serves 2 adults and 2 hungry kids):

One onion, finely chopped

6 crushed/chopped garlic cloves

A large heaped tablespoon of whole grain mustard.

Two tablespoons of runny honey

4-6 chicken leg/thigh pieces, skin and bone intact

2 cups of assorted chopped veg (I used diced carrot and courgette)

Pinch of dried tarragon (or a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh will be great)

Half cup of boiling water.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C

Saute the onion in an oven proof pot, before covering and leaving to sweat gently for 10 minutes until soft.

While the onion is sweating, mix the honey, mustard and tarragon together, and use it to coat the chicken pieces.

Add the garlic to the onion and lightly cook a little more.

Remove the onion/garlic from the pan, turn up the heat and brown those chicken pieces. They don’t need much because you will be using the oven to crisp them up later.

Return the onion and garlic to the pan, add your veg and boiling water.

Put the lid tightly onto the pot, and place in the oven and cook slowly for an hour.

Remove the lid, turn the chicken pieces so they are all skin side up and cook for a further 15 minutes in the oven so that the chicken skin can brown up. This is really easy thanks to the sugar in the honey.

The chicken meat should be moist and tender thanks to the hour of slow steaming in the lidded pot, and you still get the crisp skin, double bonus!

Enjoy served with whatever you like.

 


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Fake Pesto = Popeye Pasta sauce for kids

I love a fresh basil pesto pasta. But basil pesto sort of sucks without the parmesan cheese if you’re dairy free like me. And then, much as I know basil is rammed full of healthy goodness, I’m always quite keen to add a few more veggies into anything I serve up to my kids. Plus some kids seem to hate the taste of basil, unfortunate little souls, and this is a good way to introduce the taste a little more gently. Enter fake pesto sauce. I whipped this up in mere minutes and the kids wolfed it down even more quickly.

I keep vast quantities of this frozen in little cubes in my freezer as a quick pasta sauce for my kids. Its pretty versatile and works brilliantly if you half and half it with a béchamel sauce, stir through some scrummy cheese and shredded chicken or tuna. You can even use it for a pasta bake. Or as a puree for a really small baby, or as a base for a pasta sauce for adults.

Green pasta sauceIngredients:

1/2 a finely chopped onion

A couple of cloves of crushed garlic

2 medium courgette, grated

A large handful fresh spinach (or a few cubes of the chopped frozen variety)

A big sprig of fresh basil leaves (optional if your kids can’t stand it)

Method:

Sweat the onion in a little olive oil in a covered pan until very soft and full of flavour. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Add the green veg and  cook gently until everything is well softened before blitzing with an immersion blender, liquidiser or food processor.

To freeze, portion out into ice cube trays, cover till cool, then freeze. Once these guys are frozen solid, you can flip them out of the tray into a ziplock bag. They will keep for roughly 3 months in the freezer.


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Apricot and Almond Tart

Some of you may have noticed my absence from blogging over the last month or so. Life has suddenly become very busy; we have an impending emigration looming, so I’ve been busy sorting, decluttering and partially packing things. Its very stressful and exciting at the same time, but isn’t leaving me much room for cooking anything decent. We’ve been relying on an embarrassing number of take out meals. Both sad, and boring!

As an added bonus, it has been absolutely freezing cold here. Last week we had a sprinkling of snow, just enough to disrupt everything. And today, at a chilly -4 degrees C, everything is frozen and covered in frost. It looks fairyland beautiful, but is definitely a day for perking myself up with a reminder that summer will be back, eventually.

My chefy friend L over at Colour Me Happy Kitchen, who did some epic jam making with me earlier in the year, came up with the MOST delicious Apricot Almond sunshine tart that just sings of sunshine! Her version is gluten AND dairy free, whereas mine is just dairy free. You could switch out the dairy free spread for butter if you are a butter only cooking snob, but honestly, this tart is delicious and light as is, so you really don’t need to.

This was very simple to make. We had this a few weeks ago as a dessert for a dinner party and while I was putting my kids to bed, my sneaky guests dished it up and gobbled it down so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take any photos of it ready to eat. They were however, nice enough to leave me the barest sliver to eat. Thanks guys!

Apricot Almond TartAdapted from Colour Me Happy Kitchen’s All-in-one Apricot and Almond Sunshine Tart:

Ingredients:

75g dairy-free sunflower spread

100g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 beaten eggs

30g plain flour

75g ground almonds

a tin of halved apricots

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Grease an 18cm cake tin with a loose bottom (I used a silicone tart case)

Mix the sugar and sunflower spread together in a bowl until well combined. Add the vanilla extract.

Beat in one egg till well combined, then add the other egg and beat till combined. Gently stir in the flour and ground almonds before spreading over the base of your cake tin. The dough is quite thick and you don’t need to worry about spreading it all the way to the edge.

Drain the tinned apricots and place them evenly all over the mix, rounded side up, without pressing them in.

Bake for about 25 minutes until the almond mixture has risen up around the apricots and turned golden brown. Let your tart cool in the tin for a few minutes before loosening with a knife and lifting out of the tin. You can cool it on a wire rack or on the tin base, but my dinner guests ate it pretty much straight out of the oven.

This goes brilliantly with a dollop of pouring cream or ice cream, but I enjoyed it on its own. A delicious shot of sunshine to brighten up a frosty winter day!


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Fornightly Meal Challenge #4: Sloe Gin Venison Pie

I absolutely love the warm, comforting deliciousness of a decent meat pie on a cold, damp night. On a particularly blustery night, I put together a very special venison pie for one of our holiday dinners. The special ingredient? Sloe Gin! If you don’t know how to make it, check out my handy recipe, so you’re all prepared next year! If you don’t have sloe gin and are desperate for venison pie, never fear, this works very well with lashings of red wine instead.

I’ve found loads of venison pie recipes. I’ve also read that once your sloe gin is ready, the sloes left after decanting go well with venison pie. I’ve never managed to find a recipe for the two together, so decided to try making my own.

The only hot tip when making venison pie is that you must NOT under any circumstances braise/brown the venison. It can make the meat tough and even 12 hours of slow cooking won’t save it. You’ve been warned. To get super melt in the mouth meat, you slow cook this stuff slowly in the sauce. The best method I’ve found is 12 hours in the slow cooker, finished off with an hour in the oven to add some colour before adding that lovely puff pastry topping. My MIL does hers (with kudu and mushrooms) all day in a pressure cooker and it is gorgeous.

While we were away I didn’t have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, so did mine for 8 hours in the oven before adding the pastry. The meat was just as tender, but slightly drier. Clearly slow cooking does keep meat tender and moist. 
I cheated and used ready rolled puff pastry because I’m absolutely rubbish at pastry. I blame my hot hands. You can use any veg but this works best with winter seasonal root veg like carrots, parsnips and Swede. Mushrooms will also work well, but you should probably cook them in butter before adding them.

For the venison, try to get hold of cheap diced meat. The lower legs are fantastic for flavour and the long, gentle cooking really breaks the meat down into meltingly tender and rich tasting pie. This is one of those dishes where it pays to be friendly with your local butcher.

Don’t like pastry? No problem, you can just serve this as a casserole with a root veg and potato mash, dumplings or rice.

Ingredients (for 8 hungry hunters):

800g diced venison off the bone

2 large white onions, chopped

A tablespoon of chopped fresh garlic

Olive oil

A small glass of sloe gin (roughly 125ml)

2 cups (tins/cartons) of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

large sprig of fresh rosemary

large spring of fresh thyme

A good quality beef or vegetable stock cube

Assorted veg, just use what you have. I had six carrots, four parsnips and a couple of courgettes

250g ready rolled puff pastry, or make your own!

A beaten egg or a couple of tablespoons of milk to wash the pastry

Method:

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C.

Coat the base of a large pan with olive oil and put onto a medium heat.

Saute the chopped onion then cover the pan and turn down the heat to let them sweat until translucent. It should take about 10 minutes. Give the pan a shake now and then so they don’t stick and burn.

Add the garlic and turn up the heat again for one minute. Add the sloe gin and sauté off the onions and garlic for a few more minutes until the sloe gin fumes stop giving off their alcohol fumes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and bring up to a simmer. Add all the other ingredients, top up with some boiling water if necessary (you want everything to be just covered with sauce) and transfer to a covered oven proof dish and pop in the oven. You may need to fiddle with the oven temperature, but you’re looking for this to have a gentle fizzle of bubbles at the edges so that it cooks really slowly. I did mine for eight hours, stirring once after four hours. Remove the lid for the last hour so that it can get some extra colour.

Roll open your ready rolled pastry, or roll out your own. Cut to fit your pie dish. I usually use a new dish so that I can measure the pastry nicely, and to ensure I dirty up some extra dishes for my long-suffering spouse to wash. Remove the venison and turn the oven up to 200 degrees C.

Transfer the venison filling to the pie dish. You shouldn’t need to thicken it up, but you could do with cornflour if you really want. Brush the rim of the dish with your egg/milk to glue the pastry lid down. Top with pastry, embellish as desired, poke in a few holes to let out the steam and brush all over with egg/milk. Pop it back in the oven at 200 for 40 minutes.

Serve and enjoy! You can serve it with boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and parsley with some fresh steamed beans or broccoli, but as you can see, we didn’t bother and enjoyed it just on its own.

What are your favourite meat pie fillings?

 


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Easy Easy Rosemary Pull-Apart Bread

Nothing knocks the socks off dinner guests like home made bread. The wonderful taste of fresh bread is just so much scrummier than anything from a shop. Add to that the “straight out the oven” warmth and you’re onto a winner. An added bonus, as well as wowing your guests, most bread is actually ridiculously easy to make

This bread is one of those super easy types and will impress even your most severe critics. I even got it right in an oven not my own,  always a risk when baking. Its also pretty adaptable. You can mix and match your flours, although don’t go more than 50% wholewheat or you may end up with a brick rather than a loaf. You could replace the rosemary with caramalised onions or thyme and grated parmasan, drool! You can bake this as a standard 2lb loaf, solo rolls, plaited loaf, the options are endless. The olive oil adds flavour and moistness as well as helping the loaf to last a little longer. Good luck with that though, mine lasted all of 30 minutes, followed by requests for, “More please!” and that is no exaggeration.

Using just seven ingredients, and a fair amount of hands off time,  I’ll explain how to make this so that you can still go out for the day and have it ready to pop in the oven for dinner.

Ingredients:
600g bread flour. I used a mix of half strong white bread flour and half a whole wheat malted seed flour. You can use whatever mix takes your fancy,  as long as roughly half is strong and white.
1 sachet of dried yeast (roughly 7g or a rounded teaspoon)
1 rounded tablespoon sugar (or honey)
A large pinch of salt (also have a course salt grinder on hand)
A tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves chopped (dried is also fine)
Olive oil
380ml of warm water (about a cup and a half)

Method:
First thing in the morning, put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well and tip in the sugar and yeast. Add the water and start drawing the flour into the center. At first it will seem like you don’t have enough water and then,  you may end up with what seems like a just too wet dough as it all comes together. Add more water or flour right at this beginning stage until you get one ball of dough that’s slightly sticky.

Knead for a good 10 minutes to develop the gluten. There are some great videos on You Tube for kneading techniques for slightly wetter bread dough. Don’t be tempted to add more flour unless it’s really not holding its shape. The dough will lose its stickiness as the gluten develops.
Once the dough starts feeling nice and elastic,  do the window pane test to check that it stretches thin rather than tears. If you’re happy with the gluten development,  form it into a ball and leave to rest on the counter.

Scrape any chunky bits out of the original mixing bowl (it must be a large bowl with room for the dough to more than double in size. Add a swirl of olive oil to the bowl and make sure it coats the base and sides. Add in your dough and flip it over once or twice so it’s all coated in olive oil. Cover with oiled cling film and pop into the fridge. Go to work, or the beach in our case.

When you get home in the early evening,  take the bowl out of the fridge and leave somewhere to come to room temperature. I did this while I fed the kids. An hour later,  get the dough out of the bowl,  it should have more than doubled in size after 8 hours in the fridge. Gently flatten it on the counter. It may feel pretty rubbery if still cold,  that’s just fine. Sprinkle the surface with rosemary and coarsely ground salt. Fold into thirds. Flatten gently and repeat twice more. Form into a sausage shape and cut into 9-11 equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a roll. There is a great video here on You Tube to show one way to do it. Place each of the rolls into a pre-greased, 28cm round cake tin. Once all the rolls have been crammed into the tin,  sprinkle on some more rosemary and sea salt before gently covering with some oiled cling film and placing in a warm spot to prove. An hour and a half should do it. Get those kids bathed and into bed.

Heat your oven as hot as it will go (260 for mine) and place an empty baking tray on the bottom rack. If you have a baking stone,  pop that on the middle shelf. If you don’t,  a Pyrex dish sans lid that will fit the cake tin will also work well. I did mine with neither and it turned out just fine. Boil your kettle.

Once the oven is nice and hot you need to do two things really quickly before GENTLY closing the oven door again. 1) pour the kettle full of water into that nice hot baking tray on the bottom shelf (be warned it will be very steamy) and 2) slide your bread in its cake tin gently onto the middle shelf. Close that door gently. Turn the oven temperature right down to 180. Bake for 30 minutes. Do NOT open the door.

After 30 minutes,  take out the bread,  turn straight out onto a rack and leave to steam while you get your soup poured into bowls etc.

Serve on a chunky wooden board and pull apart to get your piece. Delicious with a thick smear of butter or with soup. Enjoy! !!


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Classy Leek and Potato Soup

At the moment I’m lucky enough to be sitting overlooking the sea. We’ve dragged ourselves down to the Isle of Wight for a family holiday, and its definitely been worth the trip.

My lovely friend (and cousin-in-law) and I are sharing the cooking duties. Actually competing for them, because the kitchen here is amazing and we both enjoy it. We are spoilt with a walk-in pantry, extra wide range cooker, every utensil we’ve ever desired (except for a Kitchen Aid) and the most fabulous prep butcher’s block on wheels. The butcher’s block is a little OTT but we ‘re enjoying it anyway.
Emily’s speciality is fish. And the fish here is super fresh. In London you can get day old fish if you know where to look. Here we have made friends with the owners of the local fishing fleet and buy it minutes old and eat it hours old. Amazing!!!
I’m not very good with fish, but as the weather is truly pants, I’ve been sticking to hearty staples. I’ve also been trying to do justice to the amazing kitchen by giving them a little something extra now and then.
First up, a very old fashioned leek and potato soup!


With simple dishes, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of making them boring. I gave mine the xfactor with one teeny tiny tweek. Remember my post a few weeks back? Sometimes it’s a good idea to cook with wine! Well I drank a glass of white wine and braised the onions with it too. Delicious. I also snuck it an extra onion and loads more garlic than I normally would. Some classy garnish and the family were blown away. I dished it up with home made tear-apart rosemary bread, fresh from the oven. I’ll post the bread recipe another night.
Ingredients:
For 6 adults I used
2 extra large white onions chopped
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 generous glass of decent white wine
4 large potatoes cut into small pieces.
6 small fresh organic leeks chopped (you could use 2 extra large ones). Set aside some neatly sliced rounds from the green ends
Roughly a litre of hot home made chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you’re going vegetarian/vegan)
Some splashes of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Roughly half a cup of cream (or almond milk if going vegan)

Method:
Heat a large pot with some olive oil to a medium heat. Add the onions, stir quickly, clamp on the lid and turn down the heat. Sweat the onions for a good 10 minutes until they’re translucent and soft. Add the garlic and turn up the heat. Once sizzling, add your wine and keep stirring until the fumes have mostly burned off.
Pour in half your stock and all the potatoes. Add enough of the remaining stock to just cover the spuds. Clamp on the lid and simmer for 10 minutes. If you’ve cut yours into big pieces, they may need a little longer.
Once the spuds are just soft all the way through, toss in the leeks, keeping some nice green slices aside for garnish. cover the pot again and simmer for another 10 minutes. You want the leeks to be soft but still green. There is nothing worse than grey soup!
Remove the pot from the heat and blitz with an immersion blender or in a liquiser. Season to taste. Stir through a half cup of cream or almond milk and pour into bowls.
For a swanky presentation, swirl through a small amount of cream or the almond milk, add a drizzle of decent olive oil, a crack of black pepper and a sprinkling of raw leek slices. Enjoy with fresh crusty rolls or my rosemary pull-apart bread. Bon appetite.


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Plum Clafoutis

Ages ago, Wendy over at Chez Chloe made the most delicious plum cake. Now I make plum cake all the time, but hers was different, and her photos so delicious looking that I felt inspired to make something else with my plums.  I was planning on a nice scrummy plum clafoutis. The little Toddler has a great love of plums and kept eating them, so I never had enough to make the dessert. Eventually, about 10 days ago, I was frantically using up ingredients before we headed off on a little holiday. And I had a GLUT of plums that even the Toddler couldn’t finish in time. We enjoyed this with my in-laws who were out for a visit.

Clafoutis is a fantastic French recipe that is based on a simple egg custard. You can make it as a sweet dessert or a savoury light meal. The dessert version was traditionally made with whole cherries (presumably stoned), but it is equally delicious with blueberries, apricots or of course, plums. Supposedly you should chop up larger fruits into cherry sized pieces, but I’ve honestly never bothered. Halved plums with stones removed work really well. If you’re keen on savoury, I can really recommend adding a little sharp grated cheese and asparagus! Remove the sugar from the custard for the savoury version of course.

Ingredients:

3 eggs

2 and a 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons plain flour

200ml of milk or milk alternative (I used Almond milk)

Enough of your fruit of choice (stoned) to cover the base of your pie dish in a single layer. Tightly packed is ideal. This will be roughly 400g of cherries or about 8 plums, halved.

A tablespoon of icing sugar

Method:

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C

Grease your pie dish and place your fruit in a single layer on the base.

Beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.

Gently fold in half the flour and milk and then the other half of the flour and milk to get a smooth batter.

Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for roughly 45 minutes until set.

Dredge with icing sugar while still hot and serve the clafoutis warm.

It goes really well with icecream!